KINGSPORT — Tri-Cities Airport is ready to embark on a partnership with the local business community.
The Tri-Cities Airport Authority held community meetings in Bristol, Johnson City and Kingsport this week. Kingsport’s meeting at MeadowView on Wednesday focused on the airport’s service strategy – and its emphasis on partnering with community stakeholders.
“The community is the one driving this growth with the airport,” said Kirk Lovell, managing director of air services consulting for Mead & Hunt. “It helps find that strategy in the next markets and get everyone on board.”
The airport depends on support from the business community in part because of its marketing restrictions, said Gene Cossey, executive director of the Tri-Cities Airport Authority. Leaders like Cossey are not allowed to market specific flights unless a new flight is added. In this case, Lovell said, new theft marketing is limited to a set time frame. It is these marketing restrictions that bring airports closer to business.
“Gene can market the aerospace park, the airport and its facilities, but it cannot market it for general economic development and regional development,” Lovell said. “That’s exactly why we’re bringing this idea to the community at large.
“The community can form a group independent of the airport. Typically, you have more reach as a chamber or (destination marketing organization). You can do a lot more and be a lot more precise than Gene and the airport.
Before considering future partnerships, however, airport executives also detailed recent aviation issues.
Airlines posted record revenues in 2019, Lovell said, but the pandemic, as well as rising oil costs, have impacted costs and revenues.
Across the country, the industry has also experienced severe labor shortages in many aviation positions.
“The airline industry has been dealing with this for some time,” Lovell said. “Previously, you had to have 250 flight hours to be certified. Years ago, that changed. You must have at least 15,000 hours in the air. It’s cheaper to become a doctor than to become a pilot in many cases.
Tri-Cities Airport is also considering future opportunities, one being the future Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Bristol.
“They didn’t take this decision lightly to come here,” Lovell said, referring to the executives who worked to bring the casino project to Bristol. “There is obviously a clear reason why they know they can make a lot of money. So we’re really trying to plant the seed that we want to be part of those conversations and help dictate which airlines fly here.
Airport officials have spoken with the Hard Rock team, Cossey said, and plan to continue conversations with the group in the future.
“We are reaching out in every way we can,” he said. “We are working on marketing as much as we can with Hard Rock, but again we run into some limitations on what we can do.”
Going forward, Tri-Cities Airport will also conduct a survey of the business community to understand where local businesses want to go. Officials also said they plan to hold future meetings with local stakeholders in an ongoing effort to work with the community.
“It’s your airport,” Cossey said. “I’m just here to direct it for you. This is your investment. It is participation that makes the difference. … Not only do we have a strong business environment across the region, but we also have people moving here and growing businesses. People are leaving the big cities. There are a ton of opportunities.